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Condition of the Mughal Family, Court, and Emperors in the Early-19th Century

Updated: Mar 22

As the later Mughals ascended to the throne and got coronated as emperors, he was a massive decline in the atmosphere of the court, as the pomp and glory that existed during the early Mughals had vanished. The state of affairs at Shahjahanabad was pathetic, and the buildings built by Shah Jahan were being neglected, as Shah Alam, Akbar Shah II, and Bahadur Shah Zafar; all were dependent on the salary they received from the British, and their dependency was mainly on the calendar or the British resident that used stay in the Mughal court. As Akbar Shah II assumed the throne, his salary was cut to 3 lakhs, unlike his predecessor Shah Alam who enjoyed a salary of 26 lakhs. Shah Alam was also probably the last king who referred to himself as the emperor of Hindustan even though his rule was confined from Delhi to Palam (Az Dilli Ta Palam; This was a famous saying during the rule of 19th century as even though Shah Alam was the emperor of India, his rule only swept a small area between Delhi and Palam). On accession to the throne, Shah Alam did some repairs and worked on the Diwan-e-Khas and the Diwan-e-Aam. Sources (Journal of a Residence in India, Lady Maria Nuget, 1811-1815, 2Vols. 1839) tell us that Akbar Shah spent about 500Rs every month on the conservation of buildings, but the amount was too small for repairs and constructions that the Qila-e-Moalla (Red Fort) required. English Poet, Bishop Heber who visited the Qila-e-Moalla in 1827 has described the Fort. He noted that the palace was “dull, desolate, and forlorn. The Shah Burj was dirty, lonely, and wretched; the bath and fountain dry; the inlaid pavement hid with lumber and gardeners’ sweeping, and the walls stained with the dung of birds and bats”.

After the death of Akbar Shah in 1837, Bahadur Shah assumed the throne, and a lot changed as he started running the polity. Bishop Heber noted that considerable developments were made under Bahadur Shah, concerning the cleanliness and appearance of the fort. But with time, Bahadur Shah also started showing his negligence towards the fort, as the plaster had fallen off and the fort that was once called Qila-e-Mubaraka got reduced to the name Laal Haveli. British Historian Percival Spear in his book, Twilight of the Mughals has noted that Bahadur Shah lost interest in reconstruction due to his age, but such a situation is unlikely as even in his later days as the emperor, Bahadur Shah always remained active. A plausible reason for his loss of interest in reconstruction is that his salary was only 3 lakhs and it was a very small amount to run administration and the court, and there was also a sudden rise in prices. However, a garden and a few European-style houses were raised by Bahadur Shah for his fifth son, Mirza Mughal, who played an important role in the Revolt of 1857 and was shot in Shahjahanabad in front of a gate, which is now called Khooni Darwaza.

A major problem faced by all the later Mughals was the financial crisis and management of the very large Mughal Kin or the Timurid household. There were offsprings of the former kings and they were poor and their ejection from the palace was not desirable for the sake of the dignity of the Mughal family. These princes lived in very bad shape and had shabby residences. Unlike them, the reigning king’s family did occupy a better position, as they enjoyed some subsistence allowance and freedom in the huge Mughal complex. Many scholars have noted that even among the princes there were 2 classes; the first section was the ones who belonged to legitimate wives of the emperor and hence they enjoyed a superior position The second section were the ones who were born to concubines and hence they had an inferior position in the hierarchy. One such example is that of Bahadur Shah Zafar only, as the Delhi Residency and Agency report has noted that Bahadur Shah himself had 12 sons and only two of them were legitimate. Bahadur Shah even had 4 daughters, and records tell us that he particularly loved Kulsum Zamani Begum, who was his daughter with Zeenat Mahal. In the account Begamat Ke Aansu by Khwaja Hasan Nizami, he tells us that Zamani Begum was a devout follower of Mehboob-e-Illahi, and she was pampered a lot by her father Bahadur Shah, who she lovingly called Babajan.


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